One of the most important tools for living a healthy, balanced, and successful life is the Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr. While the prayer (or poem) is several stanzas long, it is the first stanza that captures the essence of Niebuhr’s powerful and compelling message. And, it is that section, which is most often recited. In part, in goes like this:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer to some people seems simplistic. Yet to me, it contains the answer to all of life’s problems—big and small. I didn’t always think that way; in fact, I was a contrarian. I believed life’s problems were much too complicated and complex to be solved by a simple little prayer. In time, with an attitude adjustment, my attitude changed.
Like most people, I’ve had my share of challenges. With each difficult situation—especially one I’ve never faced before—I can’t imagine getting through it. Yet I do. My most recent was whether to put my cat Spike, of 18.5 years old, to sleep. Animal lovers will understand.
It was a decision I knew I’d have to make some day. I had done it before, but it’s never easy to let go of someone you’ve loved for so long. Eighteen and a half years is a quarter of a lifetime. The Serenity Prayer got me through; first by saying the prayer over and over again, and then by doing what it says. Accept what I can’t change and change what I can. At arm’s length, this seems so easy, but when you’re in the middle of an emotional situation—it’s not so easy.
Spike was such a pretty cat—a Seal Point Himalayan with crystal blue eyes. She was the commanding matriarch of the house. But in the last few months, she was often disoriented, unaware of where she was. Her weight dropped steadily, and until the last 3 days she was still eating and grooming herself as usual. She knew how to chow-down. Then she stopped eating and no amount of personal feeding helped. On the third day when I awoke, she couldn’t stand up on her own, and what little food remained in her tiny belly, she vomited up.
As I prepared to take her to the vet, I intuitively knew she wouldn’t return home with me. On the vet’s examining table even after he gave her the first calming injection, every fiber in my body wanted to scream out “STOP, don’t take her away from me.” But in that moment, it was the Serenity Prayer that gave me the courage to do what needed to be done. Change what I can, accept what I can’t change. It was time to accept that she was ready to make her transition. And I let her.
Even in using the prayer there is doubt. But ultimately if I have done all the footwork I can do before letting go, I feel as if I have done my best.
Is there a situation in your life today that the Serenity Prayer could help? What actions can you take to make it better? At what point do you let go and accept life on life’s terms?
Until next time, my name is Francine Ward. Author of Esteemable Acts: 10 Actions for Building Real Self Esteem and 52 Weeks of Esteemable Acts: A Guide to Right Living. For more information on Francine, visit her website.